A Good Day

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For the last few months, my check engine light has been coming on in my car. It would last a few days or weeks and then disappear only to reappear days or weeks later. It’s no surprise how long I can put off something I don’t want to do. If you don’t believe me, ask my dentist. Anyway, yesterday, I mustered the courage to address the check engine light. I called my VW dealer in downtown LA and made an appointment. At 9:30, I dropped off my car. The shuttle was leaving as I bit into my first bite of the free chocolate cake donut that I’d been fantasizing about on my drive to the dealership, so I ran to the shuttle and asked for a ride into the heart of downtown. The guy in the front seat was being dropped off at Main and Temple and I said that was fine for me, too.

When the driver dropped us off at Main and Temple, I said my thanks and looked around. Okay, what will my downtown adventure be today, I thought. I pondered walking to Grand Park and then I looked up at City Hall and remembered that the Observation Deck on the 27th floor is open to the public Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. So, I walked into City Hall, was checked through security and asked the police officer at information how to get to the observation deck. After taking an elevator to the 22nd floor and getting on another elevator to the 26th floor and walking up a flight of stairs, I was on the open balcony of the 27th floor of City Hall and I was completely by myself and I felt like the entire freaking city was mine. I walked around and took pictures. The entire time I was up there, I shared this amazing view, these amazing views, with only a handful of people. It was one of those “I am such a lucky guy” moments.

But wait, let me just back up a little. In the morning, when I was drinking my first cup of coffee, I looked to my left and these two dogs were laying next to me, looking like this:securedownload-7
Lucky Me.

Anyway, while I was on the deck, Eric told me I had to check out the rotunda in City Hall, so I went back to my friend at the information desk, who, by the way, reminded me in all the best ways of Edie Falco. I asked Edie where the rotunda was. “Take the elevator to the 3rd floor, you can’t miss it.” And I took more pictures walking around the 3rd floor. Business types floated past me as I shuttered away. They think I am a tourist, I thought. And you know, I am sort of a tourist, but Los Angeles is my home too. At 46, I’ve lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. I love LA. Also, I hate LA. But LA is part of who I am and I am part of who she is. And experiencing City Hall in such an intimate way, made me proud.

But wait, there’s more. I popped into The Last Bookstore (453 S. Spring), one of my favorite used book sellers. The first time I went there, no one had told me about the labyrinth upstairs where all books are $1. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I spent an hour there picking through shelves and boxes. I purchased four books and as I was leaving, I thought, wait, isn’t the Bradbury Building near here. Shameful side note: I’ve lived here 20 years and had never been inside the famed Bradbury Building, famous among other things for being a noted filming location (Blade Runner, The Artist, Chinatown, Disclosure). So, I walked over to 304 S. Broadway and made my own history by going in and taking some pictures. And by the way, my pictures do not do it justice.

As I was leaving, VW called to tell me my car was ready. (I never did quite understand why the engine light came on in the first place.) They asked if I wanted a shuttle and I paused and decided I would walk back. I walked down Broadway to Fifth, then walked through my favorite downtown hotel, the Millennium Biltmore. Then I walked to Bottega Louie and pondered buying a sandwich (I passed) then walked over to Figueroa and walked into the trippy Hotel Figueroa, then LA Live, then all the way down Figueroa to Washington, turned left and my tired legs were back at VW. When they brought me my car, it had been washed and vacuumed and then I went for my morning swim that had been postponed into an afternoon swim.

And while I was swimming, I thought about how great my day had been and that I wanted to go home to blog about it. But I also thought, while I was swimming that maybe it’s not a good idea to proclaim, “This is how awesome my day has been.” That maybe, that’s an invitation to the universe to send something horrible your way. And while I drove home, decided against writing a blog about how awesome my day was, (don’t tempt fate) I wondered why I was so neurotic, why couldn’t I just enjoy my day?

I did not blog later that day, instead Eric and I went back downtown to visit his friend Val and the three of us dined al fresco at a new restaurant (Zinc Cafe & Market, at 580 Mateo St.) and had a relaxing vegetarian meal. As the sunset on a perfect Los Angeles in July evening, we ate meatless tostadas, mushroom pizza and even ordered dessert. When our brownie a la mode came out with orange zest on it, I thought, I do NOT like fruit and chocolate. But I tasted it and it was really, really delicious. Maybe even better because of the orange zest. Who knows?

Anyway, last night, as I sat on the couch reading one of my new $1 books, I thought, THIS was a good day, maybe even a perfect day. And yes, perhaps I should have just kept it to myself, but I have decided to share it with you. Sometimes, you have to tempt fate.

Tacky at the Palace

LATheater-BergerConserI can’t imagine I’m the only one who grew up loving “Weird Al” Yankovic video spoofs.  What’s your favorite?  My Bologna?  I Love Rocky Road?  Eat It?  He has a new song and video, Tacky, which is a spoof of Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  Al’s version is as fun and danceable is the original.  I am sharing the video here.  It’s a delight to watch Al and co-stars Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal, and Jack Black dance and lip sync in garish ensembles, but I have to be honest, the filming location steals the video.

I don’t want to give too much a way, I want you to watch the video. Suffice to say, if you love LA or you love downtown or you just love historical preservation, you’ll love this.   The person who came up with the idea of filming the video at the Palace Theater in downtown Los Angeles was a genius.  And I appreciate the irony that a song about lacking class and doing the inappropriate thing is ultimately a thoughtful and gracious love letter to my city and those beautiful old theaters of the other Broadway.

Your Story’s Story

miller.583a.2Last night, my friend Janet gave me a copy of playwright Arthur Miller’s memoir, Timebends: A Life.  He wrote it in 1987.  As Janet pointed out, one of the big stories of his life is not even addressed. In the 599 pages of the book, Miller never brought himself to write about his son born in 1966 and institutionalized soon after.  The boy’s name is Daniel and he was born with Down Syndrome.  If you read the index of this memoir, you will find pages about his other children, Robert, Jane and Rebecca, but nothing about his youngest.  During his lifetime, he never spoke or wrote publicly about Daniel.

You might have heard about this open secret, there was a polarizing Vanity Fair article written about it in 2007, shortly after Miller passed away.  I thought about this story quite a bit last night and this morning too.  Apparently, Miller’s rationale about institutionalizing Daniel in 1966 was that that’s what people did at the time and he feared that keeping the boy at home would be a disadvantage for his next to youngest, Rebecca who was born in 1962.  (You might know this, but Rebecca Miller grew up to become a writer and filmmaker herself and is married to Daniel Day-Louis.) While Miller’s wife Inge visited Daniel regularly until her death in 2002, the playwright very seldom visited.

I am a storyteller myself, certainly not one as gifted as Arthur Miller, but a storyteller nonetheless.  My friend Janet who gave me the book is also a storyteller.  We both participated in a show last night with some of our best friends, Linda, Sarah, Michael and we also heard stories from two people I’d never met before.  And what impressed me most, touched me most, was the honesty I witnessed.  And with every story, without exception, there was this moment, when I could feel the person pause and wonder, do I really want to share this much of my story?  A young man going into the military to ignore his sexuality?  A cancer survivor yearning for the glow of her youth?  A woman betrayed by her two best friends?  I don’t think it was easy for them to reveal so much, but they did.  And their candor, their vulnerability is what I’ve also thought about, carried with me all day today.

It’s been said that Miller’s finest work was written before 1966.  People have guessed that the burden affected his writing, though he continued to be prolific, in the years that followed.  I am interested in his story, what led him to create men and women like Willy and Biff and Eddie and Beatrice and Catherine.  He wrote famously about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall.  Maybe there was a part of him that wanted to write about Daniel, too. I can wonder about his path of logic concerning the matter, though I’ll never know.

But here’s the deal. There is the story and then the story of the story. His presumably forthright memoir that still sits on my desk, that I still look forward to reading, is not necessarily diminished by the glaring omission, but it’s indeed colored.

We are all storytellers. You might demure that you aren’t but, be honest, you know you are. You tell your story on Facebook and Instagram, at cocktail parties and board meetings and fellowship groups. I know that I am not the only one struggling with how much of my story, my heart, my frailties, my complexities, I’m willing to share. There are things that I think that no one will ever know, that most of you probably already know. And that’s the way it is. So, I guess, my advice, and it’s especially for me, is share your story as honestly as possible. It’s been my experience that the truth is what we respond to most.

The Way I Remembered It

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A few months ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a storytelling show called Spark Off Rose. It was a great night, I wrote about it here and then here. Six months later, I remembered my story as me at my very best. Funny, sweet, humble, seeking, tender. In the past six months, I’ve thought about that night, and I kid you not, EVERY TIME, I thought, dang, Ray, you were pure magic.

Well, guess what? My friend and producer Janet sent me the link to the audio recording from the night, that night that seemed perfect in the misty watercolor corners of my mind. I listened and well, it wasn’t quite the Carnegie Hall debut I remembered. If I could go back and relive the evening, there are things I would change, tweak. But of course, that night has come and passed. This audio is a record of what transpired, proof. But, even hearing the flaws that I had not previously pondered, I still appreciate this particular offering as something honest, confessional, distinctively me and yes, a little bit funny too.

So, here it is. The theme was You Don’t Know Me. Obviously, if you’ve been reading this blog, you do know me, at least a bit. I’d love for you to have a listen and in doing so, get to know me, just a little more.

http://www.sparkoffrose.com/audio_performers_18.php#ray-barnhart

An Amazing Journey

familyatplantationjpg-3319966_p9My longtime friend Gretchen and her husband Cliff have two children.  Gretchen keeps me laughing regularly on Facebook by sharing the astute observances of those two kids, Raef and Gwyn.  While I did know a bit about Raef’s health complications, I learned quite a bit more about his journey, his challenges, his victories, from this article that Gretchen and Cliff posted on cnn.com.  I just knew Raef as a young man with a great sense of humor, but of course, there is always more to the story.  

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1150261

Guest Blogger, Theresa Barnhart: Reunions

484332_3040530627217_533674844_nThe family on my Mother’s side has a big reunion coming up in a few weeks. It’s the first reunion that won’t be attended by my Uncle Sam, a larger than life personality who from the time he was a teenager and his own Father died, had been the acting patriarch of his family. Sam Petramala passed away on March 29, 2014. This reunion will not be the same without him and I know that my Mother is one of the people who will feel his absence the most. A quick story: at another reunion a few years back, my Mother became suddenly ill and we had to take her to the emergency room, where we spent a good portion of one of the days. That evening, when my Uncle saw my Mom as we came back into the hotel, he burst into tears once he saw her. He was a 70-something year old man who wept at the thought of one of his baby sisters being in pain. He always was her protector and I believe, from his current vantage point, he still is. All this is to say that I know my Mom misses her brother and I thought that if I asked her to write about reunions, it would give her a chance to share a little about the brother who was like a father. He was a dear man and this family reunion will not be the same without him.

Reunions

Ray asked if I would write about a family reunion we are going to this month. Webster’s Dictionary said reunion is reuniting, the coming together of a group which has been separated for a period of time. I checked the Thesaurus and added these words: rejoining, reconciliation, homecoming, get together. The more I think about reunions, I realize there are many reunions. The military person returning home to his/her family. The excitement of seeing the smiling faces and shouts of children saying “daddy I missed you!” The family dog greets them with kisses (licks) on the face. What a happy reunion and wonderful day. Another reunion which has a bittersweet homecoming is the person who died serving his country, the casket draped with the American Flag. Just recently a service man from this area came home to his final resting place. 62 years he was separated from his family and friends. He casket was met at the airport in Tulsa and escorted home to Caney, Kansas. He was honored by so many people who never knew him just respected and appreciated what he did for his country.

Another bittersweet homecoming is to come together to celebrate the life of a person who has departed from us. It is said a funeral is for the living. I believe this. It’s a time when people come together to remember and celebrate the life of this person. We gather together to support each other as we mourn for this person. In our family, we recently came together to honor and celebrate the life of my brother Sam. He struggled the last three years of his life so we could make more memories with him. Now he is at his eternal home. Rest in peace, my brother. We all love and miss you so very much.

This month we will have a family reunion. It is an event which happens every two years. If I remember right it was started by a group of family who came together for a funeral. They decided we needed to meet for a happy occasion. Family will come from Canada, Utah, Colorado, and many more states to numerous to mention. It is a big event for us! It is a time to greet each other and renew our hearts and minds. There will be great food, (Italians always have food) games, a banquet, did I mention food, and on Sunday a family picnic with lots of food! We will play games, and recognized the oldest family member and the youngest family member. Lastly during this weekend we will share stories, pictures and we will remember those who went before us to their eternal home and they will greet us when we go to our final reunion.

Guest Blogger, Megan Heyn: Balance

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My friend Megan recently went through a rough patch with her health. She is much better now, thank God. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she might be interested in writing about it. She said yes. This is Megan’s story and I’ll let her tell it, but I want to share what happened when she wrote something on her Facebook wall on her birthday a few months ago, when she was in the middle of a dark time. She shared what she was going through and her wall was filled with messages from people, friends and family, telling her that she and her husband Patrick, her parents too, were in their thoughts and prayers. A million I love you, Megan!’s. I know it was a sad and scary birthday, that more than anything her birthday wish was to feel better again. I’m so glad that she is better, obviously, and I’m glad she is willing to share her story. I think there is something powerful about writing about what you’re going through, while you’re going through it. Maybe as we write, we understand ourselves and life and our loved ones a little better. If you know Megan, you know that she is a light, sunshine, and I think if you don’t know her, you’ll see that light in the way she has honestly shared this chapter.

Balance: a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.

Balance is the key word. It’s the word my dad always uses to enlighten me when I get stuck or confused in life and need guidance. Simple enough concept, yet it’s always been one of my biggest struggles. If I read that it’s good for you to drink 50 oz. of water a day, I’ll start drinking 100. Wait, what? A new study says meat is bad for you? Then consider me a vegan! (Notice how I skipped the preliminary step of being a vegetarian. Go big or go home!)

For four years I lived my life as a devout new age health junkie. I started with the easy stuff, you know, eating a sandwich on lettuce instead of bread (ridiculous). Then I graduated on to the hard stuff, and before you know it, I had a mason jar under my sink filled with homemade mouthwash, and a husband scratching his head and cursing my very hippie existence. The goal of this life style was to achieve perfection, both physically and mentally. To anybody on the outside looking in, it seemed that I lived the ideal lifestyle to achieve health, beauty and success. I was an organic-gluten-free vegan, kicked off everyday with a green juice, grew my own sprouts, made my own kefir, exercised 5 times a week, meditated daily, attended new age conferences, constantly reading at least 2 self help books at a time, never drank or did drugs, and of course was a consummate positive thinker.

Well, you know those ladies who get addicted to plastic surgery? They start with a “minor lift” and then 6 surgeries later, they’re barely recognizable as human. That’s what happened to me. I was addicted to self-improvement and healthy living. And instead of it making me the most beautiful, healthy and successful person around, I wound up with an incurable disease, ulcerative colitis. It’s an autoimmune disease of the large intestine. To be clear, that’s the area where all this healthy food was passing through. (Sweet, sweet irony.) I’ve spent so much time laughing about this! (Side note: I’ve spent zero time laughing about this).

It’s been a year and a half since my diagnosis, and I am just now bouncing back from my worst colitis flare yet. And, surprise surprise… this flare came as a direct result of my pursuit of “natural perfection”. You see, every time I’ve gotten this illness close to remission, I go off my medication and try to “do it the natural way,” a way that doesn’t involve prescriptions with scary side effects. Acupuncture, herbs, this, that, I’ve tried it, and each time I have crashed and burned. I always wind up even sicker than before, and consequently needing even more prescriptions to get back on track.

This particular flare began when I went off all meds and tried to heal strictly with diet and supplements. I was an idiot. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. It can… but I should have known with my previous record that it wouldn’t work for me. I spent two full months unable to leave my house with the exception of my frequent trips to the doctor. For those unfamiliar with the disease, your colon becomes inflamed and ulcerated so during a bad flare, you are in the bathroom passing blood and mucus all day. It was pretty common to rack up 20 trips to the bathroom daily. On top of all that, I developed a fissure (a cut in the rectum) and hemorrhoids as a result of the frequent flyer miles I logged on the toilet. My insides were shredded and so was my soul. I became severely anemic from all the blood loss. I couldn’t sleep because I was in constant pain, and even turning on my side would cause another even more painful trip to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat because that made me sick. One day it took me two hours to eat a single egg. I couldn’t be left alone because I didn’t have the energy to get up and feed myself so my mother and father had to come and stay with me so my husband could go to work. I was officially an invalid.

But thank God for those prescription drugs that I have always been so afraid of, because they saved me… again. This time around, I won’t be going off them without explicit consent from my doctor. I’m still struggling, it may take me months to get back to a state of health that I’m satisfied with, but I’m so grateful to be a fully functioning human now.

And it all comes back to balance. It’s ok for me to be on medication, that is just what my body needs. It is ok to eat healthy, but you need to “treat yo self” on a regular basis. So for those of you beat yourself up after eating that cookie, I say celebrate the fact that you posses the ability to indulge every now and then. I’m a prime example that being all healthy all the time doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve given up on perfection. I will never be perfect. And if that is the case, I might as well loosen the reigns and live a little. Every time I let go and add something to the “bad” side of my balance is a huge victory for me.

Last week, for the first time in forever, I used non-organic bath products, chalked full of paraben. One small step for humanity, one huge step for Megan Heyn.